We Need Pop, Pop, Pop
Music is a very personal thing. One man’s trash is another’s treasure and what one person feels is a mediocre pop record, for another it may strike a very personal flurry of emotions. Song writing is, in its most raw form, a love letter to the heart. There’s a reason these singing competitions have done so well and stood the test of time – they’re personal and designed to ignite that emotion we feel from good music. Step forward Songland, NBC’s latest reality competition, entering the crowded battle royale of reality TV to fight for a slice of that well-worn gold.
Songland wastes no time getting right to the heart of the drama, so much so that it never really explains what’s happening. One famous musician takes to the judging podium (this week being John Legend), surrounded by a handful of esteemed music producers who critique and give feedback on a selection of original songs, composed by talented, undiscovered singers who pitch their idea. The hope here being that each famous musician will take that idea, mould it into their own creation (while paying tribute to the original artist) and making it their own.
In true reality-TV fashion, each song writer has a background, complete with interesting tidbits of information and scribbled text across a beautiful landscape to depict the most important lyrical beats of that song. After introducing themselves to the group, they then perform their song, complete with a live band and a microphone, in the hope of being given their big break.
4 artists grace the stage to begin with, armed with catchy songs and some serious raw talent. These are polished singers looking for their break and in many ways, Songland borrows this concept from The Voice but adds a bit more critique and real music production techniques to try and blur that line between reality and drama. These 4 artists are then whittled down to 3, with little of the usual over-the-top fanfare you’d expect during the elimination process. It’s a refreshing change of pace and from here, the singers then leave for a one-on-one session with a music producer who picks apart their song, re-arranges lyrics, pitches, tempoes and entire verses into something that’ll fit the artist in question.
The final part of the show then gives these 3 artists the spotlight and showcases their shiny, manufactured tracks which, for me at least, don’t quite hold the same allure the originals did. The winner then goes on to work with that artist and the format, presumably, repeats again for the following episodes.
For 30 minutes or so, Songland had me sold. I loved the concept, I liked the critiques and I thought the smart use of proper musical terminology did well to help this stand out from the glut of other reality shows attempting to break into the exact same field. The issue though comes from the final performances which lost the raw edge and emotional drive that made the originals so endearing and goosebump-inducing. The winning track (which I won’t spoil here) is painfully cliched and nigh on butchered; a pale imitation of the upbeat, catchy track that ironically could have been the perfect song to hit the charts.
Unfortunately, that’s what music has come down to, and Songland shows this in all its ugliness. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed this show but seeing a beautifully crafted, soulful love letter to the 70’s mashed up into something far less emotional and more manufactured only exemplifies the issues with the music industry right now. When you compare pop records now, with their auto-tuned beats and finely tuned EDM drops to something like Jackie DeShannon’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman”, these naked performances feel so much more powerful.
Despite my ranting and displeasure for the end product, I did enjoy watching Songland. I think there’s certainly potential here for a long-lasting singing competition given the concept, but the end-product does leave a lot to be desired. While the destination is far from pleasing, the journey there is certainly intriguing enough to keep you hanging around. With promise of other big artists to come other than John Legend, it’ll be interesting to see whether Songland can withstand the pressure from other shows and keep its unique slant going or whether it’ll fade into reality TV obscurity.
Expect A Full Season Write Up When This Season Concludes!